Deal would improve board, CTU relations

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Veronica Anderson, editor

Veronica Anderson, editor

Last month, the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union came to an agreement to restore some of the union’s bargaining rights, an important first step toward improved relations between the two sides.

If the Illinois General Assembly ratifies the agreement by amending state law , it will open the door for the teachers union to negotiate the impact of layoffs, class size, staffing and other workplace issues that have been off-limits for years. It also will create a labor-management council, which gives all school unions a forum to regularly voice their concerns, and a partnership agreement, which requires the two sides to work together to plan and implement school improvement initiatives.

The deal will guard against the kind of unilateral action that drove teachers to a boiling point 18 months ago when CTU members elected President Deborah Lynch, a reformer who insisted that teachers be seen as partners in school reform. Ensuring that teachers are not shut out of the reform process breeds goodwill, and potentially generates solutions that work all around.

“One of the most positive things that’s happened in Chicago school reform for the last 15 years” is the way Dorothy Shipps, a Chicago school watcher who teaches at Columbia University Teachers College, describes the agreement. “You can’t really improve teaching and learning in really substantive ways unless you engage the teachers.”

Amen to that. The school reform law of 1995, which took away the bargaining rights, gave the board leeway to increase accountability and raise the bar for achievement. But the tools they used—probation, reconstitution, intervention—took an unnecessary toll on many teachers, sometimes driving good ones away from the schools that most needed their help. Now that the teachers union has been invited into the fold, it has the political standing to change the culture of teaching by nurturing teacher leaders and persuading the best and brightest to choose to work with the most academically-challenged students. In business, aren’t the most experienced, adept employees assigned to the toughest problems? Wouldn’t students be better served if school systems followed suit?

Studies by William L. Sanders, now a research fellow with the University of North Carolina, demonstrate the payoff of this approach. In a Tennessee study that linked test scores with teachers, he found that initially low-performing students who had good teachers three years in a row had dramatically higher odds of succeeding in high school.

For its part, the board should look for incentives for teachers who made such a choice, and by doing so, it could also solve a long-standing teacher-recruitment problem. Everybody, including principals, students and parents, would win.

Upcoming contract negotiations will be the first opportunity for the board, other school system leaders and the teachers union to take a stab at forging a true partnership that comes to terms with reality: The teachers union is here to stay, its new leaders are activists and CPS needs to find a better way to work with them.

ABOUT US I am truly pleased to announce the appointment of two new staffers. Faye Silas, who has written about schools for the Kansas City Times and, most recently, was editor of Bar Leader, an American Bar Association newsletter, joins Catalyst as managing editor. She will oversee production and assist in planning and developing editorial content. In addition, Christine Oliva, a former intern and recent graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, fills a new position, design associate for the news magazine and web site.

Also, Elizabeth Duffrin has been promoted to senior editor, and will split her time between writing and editing duties. She will also honcho development of a new department on education research.